Professor: Police reform to take time, commitment

2020 Protests

Portland City Council to tackle budget issues this week

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the debate over the Portland Police Bureau budget resumes Wednesday, the larger questions surrounding police reform lies ahead. A large part of the protest and demands for reform have started with money — mainly, how much a police department gets.

Lewis & Clark Criminal Justice Professor Aliza Kaplan told KOIN 6 News there are 18,000 police departments in the country. That means, she said, for the proposed reforms to be effective they have to take place at the city and county level.

Over the past 15 years federal and local governments have made tremendous efforts toward police reform and training because of violent issues, even in Minneapolis, Kaplan said. But she added it’s clearly not the answer since police kill people like George Floyd.

“So what that tells me is a couple things. It tells me first and foremost, no amount of procedural reform and training are going to be successful in dramatically changing a culture that has been piled up upon in different ways over the last 40 plus years. So if we really want substantive change and justice, we need to do more than just train and throw a bunch of procedural reforms into it,” she said.

To fix this as a society she said we have to review and go to the root of the problem. Over the past 4 decades there’s been a massive expansion of the scope and intensity of policing with officers becoming more militarized. Police respond to schools, homeless calls, mental health emergencies, welfare checks and many more calls.

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“We need to think about what public safety is in our communities. And is it always sending the police in military gear and their tanks or whatever they’re riding in? Is that the way to solve all of our problems or should money be taken from the police and put into social services?​”

That’s where the “defunding the police” — which is actually divesting in police departments — comes from.

Residents of Portland, protesters and City Council members are trying to find ways to reinvest those resources to have a greater impact on everyone’s public safety.

Kaplan said people, like police, need to be held accountable by community oversight that has teeth. True criminal justice requires robust community involvement. Reform has to happen at a local level.

And, she said, people must remain committed because the work will take a long time and goes way behond the police.

“If we’re going to make change and talk about changing at the police level, the next thing and the totally intertwined thing is, what happens to people when they do get arrested,” she told KOIN 6 News.

She pointed specifically to the importance of electing a new District Attorney and making sure that position is held by someone who is committed to new ideas of reforming public safety.

For real substantive change she said there should be the use of restorative justice practices by utilizing deep therapy and social workers to help people who are victims of systemic poverty or abuse, versus over-criminalizing issues that can stem from those factors.

“We need to heal in our communities,” she said. “And we don’t do enough of that when we have such a militaristic, aggressive response to community problems. We’re not actually solving problems and healing communities.​”

Kaplan stressed there is a lot of energy going into this right now in the heat of the moment. But fixing this is a years-long haul and will take serious community involvement.

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